Norwich City vs Reading. Sky Bet Championship.
Saturday 8 April 2017 18:17, UK
Reading looked anything but a side challenging for promotion to the Premier League as they suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat at the hands of a rampant Norwich side.
The Canaries saw their outside chances of making the Championship play-offs all but snuffed out by a 3-0 defeat at Huddersfield in midweek but they were magnificent on their return to Carrow Road, while being aided and abetted by some woeful Royals' defending.
They hit Reading for six in an incredible first half, with Wes Hoolahan and Alex Pritchard each scoring two and Nelson Oliveira and Russell Martin also on target. Substitute Cameron Jerome then added salt to the wounds in the 89th to complete an amazing scoreline.
Yann Kermorgant's goal with Reading already 5-0 down was hardly a consolation and Jaap Stam's side will need to regroup quickly for the challenges that lie ahead, even though their position in the top six looks relatively secure.
The Canaries could hardly have made a better start, taking the lead after three minutes with their opponents barely having touched the ball.
Referee James Linington pointed straight to the spot after Chris Gunter knocked Oliveira off balance as he tried to prod home following a spill from Ali Al Habsi, and the Portuguese striker coolly converted the penalty.
It was a poor goal for Reading to concede, with the keeper guilty of failing to gather a tame shot from Jonny Howson, and it nearly got worse for them on 12 minutes when Oliveira's curling effort from just outside the box clipped an upright.
The Canaries did not have to wait long for their second, however. Jacob Murphy's cross into the box prompted chaos and although Russell Martin was unable to finish, the ball broke kindly for Hoolahan to fire home from close range.
Reading were guilty of more poor defending as Norwich made it 3-0 on 26 minutes. They were slow to react as the ball ran free some 20 yards out in a central area and Pritchard needed no second invitation to curl the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net.
It was fast becoming embarrassing for Reading, with the Canaries stretching their lead still further six minutes later. This time Al Habsi was a shade unlucky, making a good save low to his right to keep out Oliveira's goalbound shot only for Martin to tie up the loose ends.
Goal number five arrived on 35 minutes as another swift Norwich attack ended with Pritchard picking up the ball some 30 yards out, running unchallenged towards goal and sliding the ball past the exposed keeper.
Reading pulled one back when Kermorgant prodded home from close range after John Ruddy had brilliant blocked Lewis Grabban's header, but it was Norwich who had the final say in an incredible first half. More diabolical defending allowed the diminutive Hoolahan to wrestle his way through and tap the ball past Al Habsi at the second attempt to make it six.
With the destination of the points having long been decided there was less intensity to the game in the early stages of the second half, with Reading more involved and Ruddy tipping over a 30-yard strike from John Swift.
Pritchard twice went close to making it seven from close range while the unmarked Oliveira wasted a glorious chance after being given the freedom of the penalty box.
Al Habsi also made a couple of superb stops to deny Murphy and Klose as Norwich regained some of their first-half rhythm, while a Mitchell Dijks header came back off the crossbar.
Norwich finally got the seventh goal they deserved in the 89th minute when Jerome converted a cross from fellow substitute Josh Murphy, with the Reading defence again nowhere.
Norwich caretaker boss Alan Irvine:
"I said after the [midweek] game that I couldn't defend the performance so it is only fair that I praise them now. They went about their business superbly today, it was an excellent performance. Bearing in mind the quality of the opposition I think it's the best display since I have been here. The lads were absolutely spot on in the way they played both with and without the ball and to be honest we could have had a few more goals.
"To be fair the home form has been good this season - it's just a shame that our away form has been so poor. It's difficult for a side to challenge when you have an away record like ours.
"The lads will have another man to impress soon but I am happy to do what they club has asked me to do for the rest of the season. I'll me doing my utmost to ensure the players are properly prepared for the games that are left - and I'll be on the touchline watching to see if they do what I tell them!"
Reading boss Jaap Stam:
"We never came here expecting an easy time because Norwich are a good team with a lot of good players. But obviously it was a tough afternoon for us - we needed to make it far more difficult for them than that. No-one plays badly on purpose but we needed to be more aggressive out there, we needed to show more.
"It was just one of those days when all their shots on target seemed to go in, every loose ball seemed to fall to them although we didn't help ourselves. I don't think it will affect the confidence of the players - all they can do now is learn from what happened to do and then move on, because we have some more very big games coming up.
"We are obviously not happy with this result - but we are in a good position because of the way we play the game, and the way the players have been performing over the course of the season, and you have to remember that."